Chapter 1:

Like a Prince

BLOODY BAT ROMEO


"NO, STOP!!"

A female voice cries loudly from somewhere, breaking the silence of a quiet neighborhood one afternoon. It came from a high school girl cornered in an alley by four young delinquents who have her surrounded. Her long black hair and the red ribbon adorning it are filthy from the dirt on the wall she had backed into out of fear.

"There's no need to yell, missy,” says one of the thugs with a devious smirk. “We just wanna have some fun with ya."

"Yeah, we just wanna have some fun!"

"You smell real nice, heheh."

The girl, terrified, tries to back herself even further onto the wall, but unless she planned to merge herself with the building, that was not going to happen.

She watches in terror as one of them reaches for her shoulder with his big, ugly hand, immediately shutting her eyes closed.

"No! Somebody...please save me!"

Her quiet voice breaks as she waits for the worst, knowing that the street is probably empty and that she is on her own, completely at the mercy of these local gangsters who simply see her as easy prey.

WHACK!...WHACK!

The sharp sound of something cracking open suddenly startles her.

WHACK!!

AAARGH!!

This time she sees it: a quick flash of something blunt hitting one of the delinquents across the head from behind, his loud cry of pain ringing in the air as he falls.

"Y-You’re—!?"

The last delinquent standing starts stammering, seemingly recognizing his assailant and stepping away from the mysterious figure that had taken down his three comrades a moment ago.

The look on his face is full of fear: sweating, gritting his teeth as he raises a hand to try and stop what's coming. But it's too late. The mysterious, bloodthirsty figure raises the weapon in his hands high up, and the thug starts pleading for mercy.

"P-Please! I-I'll go! Spare meeeee!!"

WHACK!

The girl shuts her eyes again and turns her face away, fearing the worst. But unlike before, she can still hear the thug conscious, sobbing, and the sound of the hit itself was fairly different.

She opens one eye and sees that the delinquent has fallen on his butt, holding his arms above his head as if still expecting a hit, his entire body visibly shaking.

The mysterious figure had instead struck the ground next to the delinquent, a chunk of concrete digging out where he'd struck it.

"...Leave."

"Y-Y-YES!!!!"

The delinquent crawls back a few meters before standing up and running away in the most graceless fashion, stumbling into a few trash cans. The girl watches him escape, clutching her chest; her heart still beating fast.

It all happened so quickly: she can barely process what just occurred, but her mind slowly starts catching up. She turns to look at the person who had come to save her— her hero.

In front of her stands a young man, wearing a red long coat lined with fur over a high school uniform and a black headband messily wrapped around his dyed hair. In his hand he's holding a baseball bat with nails protruding from the end, stained by blood. His eyes look dark and unfocused.

Slowly, he brings his free hand to his cheek, wiping some drops of blood from his skin. He seems to be in some sort of bloodthirsty trance, with his eyes obscured by his hair. Even though he’s not smiling, the girl thinks he might have been enjoying himself.

Concerned by this thought, she tilts her head to take a better look at him, and they accidentally lock eyes. It makes the boy blink with a soft gasp, as if coming back to his senses, while the girl covers her mouth with her hand.

With just one glance, the boy can tell the girl is scared out of her mind, and who wouldn't be? She almost got attacked by four bullies— three of them still lying on the ground at her feet, unconscious.

Not to mention she also saw him like this...

Feeling guilty over making her situation worse, the boy gives her a wry, forced smile.

"Um. Sorry about that. I heard you scream, so…are you okay?"

The girl blinks at him; she was not expecting him to address her politely. It helps calm her down enough to lower her hand away from her mouth again.

She nods in response, but her eyes fall back down to the three guys at their feet, and then to the bat in his hands. She gives him a worried look, gulping.

"...Are you also...a delinquent?"

Her question is quiet and shy, and it looks almost as if it pained her to ask. The boy is taken aback by it, himself.

What? Can this girl not tell? I'm holding a bat with nails on it...I’m obviously a delinquent, too.

But from the girl's innocent stare, he can tell that her question is genuine.

He wants to spill the truth, of course, but at this moment it feels like saying the wrong thing will only scare her even more, so instead he hides the bat behind his back and clears his throat, languidly waving his other hand dismissively.

"Of course not. I...I found this thing abandoned next to the alley so I picked it up before running in here. Yeah. It must belong to one of these guys...or...something."

...Ugh. That sounded fake as hell. There’s no way she’ll fall for that.

But the change in the girl’s expression said otherwise. Her face lights up, her big violet eyes bright and wide, looking at him like a kid who just got the toy she wanted in a vending machine.

She reaches both her hands towards the boy's, making him drop the bat in the process with a heavy echoing sound. He looks at her, startled, his heart beating quicker by the second, blinking in confusion.

"I knew it! You're a good guy, aren't you? Hehe."

...Oh. She's cute.

"Uh..." the boy tries to answer, but nothing comes out. The girl smiles at him so brightly it's almost blinding.

"I knew you couldn't be like those scary, awful boys. You're different. You're like a prince!"

Her warm hands gently holding onto his own with her delicate fingers—as well as her childlike excitement—melt down something inside the boy's heart.

Oh, no. She has it all wrong, huh.

But then again, does it matter? They don't know each other, they'll never see each other again, this was merely a chance encounter, so actually—

"Ah! Your uniform!" She blurts out suddenly, letting go of his hands and clapping her own together excitedly. "We go to the same high school! How wonderful!"

...Ah.

"I'm Yuri. What's your name?" She introduces herself excitedly.

"I'm Romeo..."

The boy responds reflexively, still unsure of why his chance encounter is suddenly turning into a proper meeting.

"Romeo! What a lovely name!"

Ba-dump.

She gives him another polite nod, lifting her head just as the sunset splashes her face with an ethereal pink light. Romeo's heart feels like it'll burst out of his chest just from looking at the sight.

"Thank you very much for saving me today, Romeo. I have to get back home now or my brother will get worried, but I do hope I get to see you again soon."

With one last bow, she excuses herself, the faint fragrance of lilies lingering in the air after she leaves. If Romeo had heard the thugs harassing her before he arrived, he would unfortunately have to agree with them on one thing…

…She sure smells nice.

* * *

Romeo went through the next week in a daze, spending most of his time lying on the roof of his high school, thinking back on that incident and replaying it in his head over and over.

You're like a prince!

That line echoed in his mind at least ten times an hour.

She completely misunderstood him— rather, he lied to her and she believed him. That's what really happened. His mind kept thinking of her beautiful, innocent smile, and guilt would take over almost immediately.

...I'm a terrible person, aren't I?

And he was right. The truth is far worse than anything Yuri could even imagine.

Romeo isn't just a delinquent. He is the strongest, most notoriously violent delinquent from the Makai gang. He had earned himself a three-word nickname, something only the worst of the worst ever get, and it instilled fear in the hearts of those who were unlucky enough to face him:

Bloody Bat Romeo.

But after his meeting with Yuri, he couldn't help but feel... different. He didn't want to lie to her. He wanted to talk to her again, see her again... but how could he face her, being the kind of person he is? He messes his hair roughly with his hands, frustrated.

There's no way I can take my lie back! Just like there's no way scum like me could ever meet with someone so pure again! Argh!

...And just like that, a thought pops into his head.

But... I guess it doesn't have to be a lie, does it?

With his eyes wide open, he sits up immediately.

That's right. It doesn't have to be a lie! All I have to do is quit the gang, right? If I stop being a delinquent, then Yuri...

Yes! What a simple solution! Why didn't he think of it before!? If he weren't a delinquent, he could talk to Yuri again and get close to her, and then finally he could tell her how he feels!

The thought made his heart skip a beat and his blood rush to his face.

…A-A love confession...!

He looks at his hand— a hand she had held before, and balls it into a fist.

Of course Romeo didn't normally go to class, but he'd been showing up on campus from time to time ever Since Yuri told him she goes to his school. He'd managed to catch sight of her a few times; Romeo never had any intention of approaching her, of course, but in his stalking— uh, observations, he had figured out where her locker was, and as it turns out, she's also a second-year student just like him.

He balls both fists and huffs with determination.

...Okay. If I’m going to confess, I have to be serious about it. Yuri is too sweet to be entangled with someone like me, so the fact that I have to leave the Makai gang is absolutely a given. There's no way around it.

The nickname he worked so hard to achieve... he has to let that go, too. For the girl who stole his heart, Romeo has to be reborn.

"Here you are, Boss!"

A loud, boisterous voice breaks Romeo out of his inner thoughts. Two boys approach him from the direction of the rooftop's door. The one that called out to him looks unequivocally like a delinquent: he's wearing the school uniform, except his jacket was shortened and his pants were modified to be baggy. His short, dyed hair already shows his thick black roots. Across his left eye is a vertical scar, leaving an impression on anyone who saw him. With one hand in his pocket, he waves the other at Romeo, excited.

"Don't call me that, Jojo," scoffs Romeo, leaning back on both his palms with a sigh. "Our real boss hates it when you do that."

"I don't care! He's not my boss— you are, Boss!"

Romeo grimaces. He goes through this with Jojo so often he's actually worried the real Makai boss will kill both of them with his own hands one day.

"Were you looking for me?"

"Hell yeah we were! You haven't been comin' to the hideout the last few days so we were worried somethin' bad had happened, or that the Kappore gang did ya in!"

Jojo's response is as energetic as always. It almost makes Romeo feel bad for ditching the gang for so many days, because he understood why Jojo was worried.

The Kappore gang is the largest, strongest gang in the city, and it's at constant odds with the second strongest gang around— a gang that's slowly gained more and more territory over the years: the Makai gang. It’s the gang Jojo and Romeo are loyal to.

Thinking that the Kappore might have found Romeo while he had his guard down and taken him out was not entirely a far-fetched thought.

"Well, I'm fine. So you can wipe that ugly expression out of your face."

"But this is my normal face!!"

"...Pftt. Haha."

The third boy, Meru, who had been silent until now, quietly laughs at the scene. Unlike Jojo and Romeo, Meru is wearing his uniform the proper way, with his shoulder-length sky blue hair immaculately brushed, a hand behind his back and another balled near his mouth to hold back his laughter.

No matter how you look at him, he looks like an honor student— not someone that should be hanging out with delinquents like this.

Romeo looks at him, annoyed.

"Sorry," Meru quickly apologizes, "it's just that it's very unlike you to disappear for so long... but it's very like you to show up where we least expect to find you, Romeo."

Romeo's expression softens after hearing this. They're right. He abandoned the gang to be alone with his thoughts so it's only natural someone would come looking for him eventually. He sighs, and waves a dismissive hand at them.

"My bad, okay? I had a lot on my mind."

"Oh? Like what, exactly?" Meru asks and crouches next to him, holding his knees together.

Seeing this, Jojo does the same on the opposite side of Romeo, with his legs slightly open and an arm resting on each knee. Romeo makes a disgusted face.

"It's none of your business. I told you guys I'm fine—"

...Ah. Wait a second. He does have something to say to them, doesn't he. Just before they got here he made up his mind about leaving the gang and quitting his life as a delinquent forever. Isn't this as good a time as any to break the news?

He looks at Meru only, completely ignoring Jojo who is in turn trying so hard to look at Romeo's face. Romeo looks serious, determined.

"...No. The truth is, there is something you should know..."

* * *

The next day, Romeo heads to school early in the morning, something he hadn't done in very long. He plans to attend class for the first time in a while, determined to become a better student from now on so that he could become someone worthy of being close to Yuri.

But there was also another reason.

Since there is absolutely no doubt in his mind about leaving the Makai behind, Romeo had gathered his courage the previous night and wrote a note for Yuri asking her to meet up on the rooftop after class. He signed it with his name as a precaution, and partly because he secretly hoped she'd still remember him from his name.

This is a romantic gesture, right? Pure girls like this kind of thing, right?

Oh no, his heart starts to race again. Love confessions are truly a frightening thing, scarier than any fight he's ever had to face before. But unlike his regular brawls, he can't just clobber his way out of this feeling... although he sure wishes he could.

He reaches her locker in no time, feeling like a creepy loser for scurrying about and looking everywhere for signs of anyone else. Once he's convinced he's alone, he quickly slips the note inside; his heart about to burst out of his chest through every second of it.

...I did it!!

He runs away from there and towards the direction of his classroom as quickly as possible, terrified and excited.

All he has to do now is wait.

* * *

Yesterday afternoon, after he mentioned his decision to depart from the Makai gang to a sobbing Jojo and an unreadable Meru, news about Romeo’s change of heart spread like wildfire.

Jojo couldn't keep his mouth shut for too long and cried his eyes out at the Makai hideout, where the rest of the gang talked amongst themselves and wondered what caused Romeo to make such a decision when he clearly was the strongest of them all— possibly even stronger than their boss.

Romeo didn't explain himself to Jojo, so speculation brewed in every single direction. Some said he had been scouted by a scary gang of adults, others that he had turned to religion, and a few of them simply thought he had been brainwashed by some secret organization.

The news didn't take long to reach the Kappore gang.

When someone as notorious as Bloody Bat Romeo decides to retire, it never goes unnoticed. It's a fact that it would eventually reach the ears of their rival gang's leader, too— the fearsome and ruthless Raging Fist Endo.

* * *

The day had turned overcast in a matter of seconds, and although there were still a few hours to go before their meeting, Romeo was starting to get worried that Yuri might not show up if the weather turned for the worst.

After all the dirty looks he got from his classmates and teachers, Romeo decided it was still too soon to come back to class like a proper student and instead opted for leaving early, taking his bat from its hiding place near the lockers on his way out and headed to the back of the school building.

Jojo and Meru probably won’t be there today, huh… Not like it matters. I don’t think they’ll want to see me, anyway.

As he gets closer to the corner that leads to the back, a strange feeling starts taking over him. Something felt... wrong.

The wind was quietly blowing some leaves away as it usually does during fall, and the grey sky felt more like an omen than anything. He turns the corner with caution, and his bad feeling finally finds a name.

"Raging Fist Endo...!?"

Romeo quietly calls out in surprise.

Behind the school building, which clearly was in Makai territory, stood a very tall, bulky young man with a buzzcut and many piercings on his ears and face, cracking his knuckles and looking at Romeo with a calm glare of disdain. There are around twenty others standing behind him with different weapons and the same type of smug expressions on their faces.

Romeo had never seen a single member of the Kappore gang in Makai territory before, never mind this many... never mind their leader!

"Yo, Bloody Bat Romeo. I heard you're quittin' your gang. Are you tryin' to run away from us?"

Endo's voice is deep and menacing just as his entire presence.

"No," Romeo scoffs. "This has nothing to do with you losers."

"Yeah? 'Cause you've put many of my guys in the hospital before. Almost like you think you can just do that then go around livin' your merry little life with no consequences whatsoever. You know that's not how things work with us, do ya?"

Yes, of course Romeo knows this. He expected his own gang to get on his case about it too— and maybe they will once he faces the Makai boss face-to-face about his decision, but right now... right now he has this other boss to take care of.

"I suppose a simple apology won't cut it?" Romeo says cheekily, unwrapping the bandages around his bat in slow movements.

"Haha. You can apologize from the grave, you little turd."

And with a tilt of his chin, Endo gives his gang the signal to attack.

Every single guy standing behind Endo lunges after Romeo with a battle cry, who had managed to unwrap his bat just in time. They're all strong fighters from the Kappore gang who had once been wronged by Romeo themselves or knew someone that was, and all held a strong grudge against him.

These powerful members of the Kappore gang, which had remained the number one gang in the city simply by how large their numbers were, were all baring their fangs at Romeo, ready for carnage.

But not a single one of them comes even close to being a good match for Romeo, who swiftly dodges their attacks and counters back with powerful kicks and surprise attacks of his own, relying on his bat to do most of his dirty work.

WHACK! WHACK! SHWHACK!!!

One after the other, the Kappore start falling over like flies with horrifying screams of pain, and a single splash of blood splatters across Endo's cheek, who had been standing with his arms crossed at the same place he'd been since the beginning, unmoving.

His expression started smug, but as the bloodbath went on and his gang members slowly fell one by one, it began contorting into surprise, and eventually... rage.

A few moments later, when all of his men were either unconscious or writhing in pain on the ground, Endo let out a loud roar to the heavens.

"RAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!"

His voice echoes at the same time as the sky rumbles, and rain begins to fall.

Romeo, with his chest heaving as he breathes out in exhaustion, tilts his head to the side and brings his bat to his shoulder, fresh blood flushed away from his weapon and from his face by the downpour, only minorly injured for someone that just took on an entire army of thugs.

He looks over at Endo and makes a disappointed noise.

"Hey... I really didn't wanna fight you guys, y'know. I meant it. I'm not doing this anymore. I know I did some nasty things to the Kappore in the past, but so did you, yeah? To me and the rest of Makai. That's the kind of life we live. I'm not asking for forgiveness here, I just wanna end the revenge cycl—"

"YOU TALK TOO MUUUUCH!!"

Romeo couldn't finish his line before Endo lunged at him with all he had, planting his big, bulky fist straight onto Romeo's jaw, sending Romeo flying back. His bat slips from his hand and goes spinning on the pavement.

Dizzy, Romeo takes a moment to peel his face off of the ground with a pained noise, holding his jaw in his hand.

He manages to get himself into a sitting position with barely enough time to reach for his bat and stop yet another quick attack from Endo— one more of his famous, super strong punches that earned him his nickname, which hits Romeo's bat directly as Romeo holds it horizontally in front of him with both hands, struggling to keep him away.

Endo's fist is unmoving and relentless, and his face is twisted into that of a rampaging beast. Romeo hears his bat cracking under the pressure.

Taking a chance while Endo is busy trying to break through his weapon, Romeo pulls one of his legs onto himself and then releases it sharply like a spring, turning it into a powerful kick aimed directly at Endo’s stomach. This time, it's Endo who goes flying.

CRASH!!!

Endo hits a lamp post with his back, sliding down against it, disoriented.

Romeo finally has enough time to wipe the blood from his mouth, and with some difficulty he staggers up right after, breathing heavily, walking slowly towards Endo as he drags his bat across the pavement with an eerie noise.

"Y-You... monster...!"

Endo cries out, a clear look of fear in his eyes. Romeo's face is obscured by his hair, wet from the rain, but a small glint of bloodlust can be seen peeking through his pupils.

He stands in front of Endo, looking down at him with an unreadable dark expression.

Slowly, he lifts his bat up to the sky, never taking his eyes off of the leader of the Kappore, who now has an arm raised above his head as if trying to protect himself.

"Stop! Don't do iiiit—"

WHACK!

* * *

The whole ordeal took about an hour, with Romeo spending another hour after that tending to his own wounds, which were not very serious, in the school's bathroom in secret until he got himself as presentable as he could.

Romeo had rushed back inside the school building, wet from the rain from head to toe, but at least no blood was showing on his clothes or on his person. He left his bat back in its hiding place.

With so little time to spare after that bloody battle he had no chance to hide the gigantic bruise on his face either, but he couldn't worry about that now. It was almost time for his meeting with Yuri!

He rushes by plenty of students that were leaving the building to go home, running in the opposite direction, nearly sliding on his wet shoes. He makes it to the stairs, and climbs up and up until he finally reaches the roof.

Yuri... Yuri...!!

Her image of that day under the pink sunset is still vividly etched into his memories.

As he stands in front of the rooftop’s door, he reaches for the doorknob, but... only hovers his hand over it. He takes a moment to catch his breath, wondering one last time if this is a good idea after all.

...Well. There’s no going back now, is there?

He steels himself with courage, and finally turns the doorknob to open the door.

"...."

...Empty.

Nothing but the sound of the rain. No person in sight. No Yuri.

...Hah. Of course she didn't come. Yeah. I should have expected this, huh.

Romeo convinces himself in his head, disappointed and a little heartbroken.

He had decided to leave behind the only life he's ever known for the chance at a normal one, where he gets to talk to someone gentle and nice, who he could probably open up to and get to know on a personal level. But that... was not going to happen, huh. Not to someone like him.

He steps down the stairs back to the first floor, sad and slow, his head as empty as his heart.

When he reaches the locker area, he can hear a familiar voice quietly sobbing.

…? Could it be?

He approaches the source of the sound with brisk steps, and standing in front of her locker, there she was... Yuri.

"Yuri...!"

Romeo calls to her with surprise, his one-track mind almost completely missing Nana, Yuri's best friend, who was currently holding Yuri against her big chest, petting her hair as if consoling her. Romeo steps closer with a concerned look.

"What... happened?"

Nana gives Romeo a cold look.

"Who are you?"

This makes Yuri lift her crying face and turn to look at Romeo, their eyes locking for the second time ever. Romeo can feel his heart beating out of his chest again, just like that day.

Yuri gasps softly, as if she had realized something, and she tries to pull away from Nana who instead keeps Yuri firmly in place. Yuri doesn't seem to mind. She averts her eyes.

"Romeo... I... got your letter..."

Ba-dump!

"Oh... yeah?"

Wait, she couldn't possibly be crying because of that, could she!? I didn't even tell her what it was about!!

"Sorry..." She continues quietly, trying to stop her voice from breaking up. "I wanted to go... I've been meaning to see you again since that day..."

Ba-dump, ba-dump!!

"But I just got the horrible news that my brother was rushed to the hospital a moment ago..."

Ba-dump—……..Eh?

Well, that's... something. An evil part of Romeo is relieved she isn't crying because of him, but on the other hand...

"He lives with Yuri's mom on the opposite side of town, but, somehow, he was found unconscious behind our school," Nana interrupts.

Romeo immediately gets a bone-chilling feeling coursing down his spine.

"Unconscious..."

He repeats, as if in a trance.

Yuri nods. "He was attacked by some of those horrible delinquents, too..."

"Too!?" Nana echoes. This is the first she hears about this, holding Yuri by the shoulders to look at her, although Yuri is too busy wiping her tears away from her eyes to notice Nana's scrutinizing look.

Romeo gulps.

"Y-Yuri... Your brother... Does he go to the school on the opposite side of town, too?"

"Eh? Yes... Yes he does..."

...Ohh no. There's no way. There's just no way, right?

"......"

"...Romeo?"

"Uh...Yuri... Could you tell me... Your brother's name...?"

"...Huh?"

"..."

"...His name is Endo. Why?"